Friday, February 12, 2010

Reconciliation Is Normal Politics

Greg Sargent quotes a John Boehner flak who refers (obliquely) to reconciliation as "legislative tricks."  Republicans are certainly welcome to come up with whatever preposterous spin they choose, but I'll say it again: reconciliation is part of the normal legislative procedure.  It's over thirty years old.  It's been used by Republicans and by Democrats; most of the major laws passed by Republicans over the last thirty years were passed using reconciliation.  Reconciliation is older than the filibuster as it is currently being used (I'd date the filibuster-everything Senate to 1993, well after reconciliation. 

In a second item Greg recommends that "Dems can try to change the underlying dynamic — as hard as this might appear — by challenging, and perhaps changing, the procedural realities that make this dynamic possible."  He adds:
To be clear, reconciliation is one way to challenge that underlying dynamic, as is (of course) reforming the filibuster.
This is flat-out wrong.  Reconciliation is part of the current procedural reality of the Senate, not something that would change the underlying dynamic.

Back during the fight over the public option and health care reform, I argued that liberals who believed that reconciliation was a magic bullet on health care were wrong, because I believed that the votes didn't fall correctly for reconciliation to get liberals the bill they wanted.  There are political problems with trying to get exactly fifty votes in the Senate out of fifty-nine Democrats, because a whole lot of Democrats don't want to appear to be very liberal.  Those are real problems, and they would be real problems even if there was no such thing as a filibuster.  And of course reconciliation has rules that make it no cure-all.  But there is absolutely nothing unusual, extraordinary, or new about using reconciliation for major bills.  None. 

As long as Republicans keep saying it, I'm going to keep repeating that they're wrong.

1 comment:

  1. The filibuster increases the incentive for discipline in the minority party.

    The filibuster everything approach only works if you have a lot of party discipline, and as we can see it is an effective political startegy. It makes the majority party ineffective and the minority party can attack the lack of bipartisan legislation. While that seems nervy, it takes judgment to see that the minority was never going to vote for a compromise bill, period. The minority party will yell to the rooftops that they tried and tried but the majority party is intrangigent. Who's to know?

    Furthermore, conservatives can forward their agenda by blocking change, so a blocking strategy is more amenable to a conservative. This puts an effective partisan bias in the filibuster. It works better for conservatives than liberals so it is more used by conservatives than liberals. Historical analyses I have looked at bear this out.

    Although I can see a lot of advantages to supermajority requirements, it is hard to justify a structure that tilts the table to the right (or the left), and on this basis I think the filibuster is hard to defend.

    A Harkin type filibuster seems like a reasonable compromise. The minority can eat up floor time and slow legislation they really hate, but a block everything startegy no longer works.


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